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Creating Healthier Brands: What is the Difference Between Brand Identity and Brand Image?

A compass image to denote the act of navigating through a rebranding effortTo refresh or revitalize your brand, your organization faces some important decision points up front. Do you want to change your brand identity (appearance), your brand image (personality), or both?

As president of a healthcare marketing, branding and advertising firm, I often hear the terms “brand identity” and “brand image” used interchangeably. While these two paths do intersect and build on one another, they are really quite different in what they will achieve for your company.

Your brand identity is tangible, an identifiable representation of your company’s name and overall “look.” It’s how you present in market – your company name, logo and tagline, your corporate color palette, and how your customers refer to you. Your brand identity typically substantiates your current market position. It is what people call you and how they recognize you visually. Identity is most closely correlated with the logo.

Your brand image, on the other hand, is intangible. It’s a reflection of the outward personality, character and authenticity of your company, which comes from the inside out. Your brand image is how your customers perceive you based on how you relate and connect with them, and it embodies the market position you want to own. It is who you are and what you stand for – the intended meaning of your brand in the minds of consumers, including the expectations they have of you. Image is most closely correlated to organizational culture.

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Defining and Communicating Brand Identity/Brand Image

Below, I’ve outlined 10-step core processes for defining and communicating your brand identity or brand image. Together, these processes can be combined into a larger, data-driven brand strategy that ensures a strong brand position, one that is sustainable, well aligned with internal vision, and highly embraceable by consumers.

Redefining your brand’s identity (appearance):

  1. Know your objective: If you’re changing the company name, what is your end goal? Define specifically what you plan to accomplish with a new name.
  2. Know your market position: What is your brand’s current market position, and how does the name change add to or detract from that market position?
  3. Formulate a competitive profile: How does your current brand identity look relative to your competition? It is important to differentiate from your competitors to alleviate brand confusion.
  4. Take a corporate inventory: Locate all current assets that will need to be updated with the new brand identity. Create a corporate identity checklist to ensure nothing slips through the cracks of your rebranding effort.
  5. Get creative and tactical: Build and review designs of the new name and logo, trademark production, image asset development, etc.
  6. Embrace market feedback: At a minimum, conduct basic research and market testing to be sure your new brand identity resonates with your target audiences, potential and existing partners, and other key audiences.
  7. Develop brand standards: To ensure consistency and integrity of the brand, provide your employees with specific guidelines on showcasing the new brand identity, including detailed specifications on logo usage, corporate color palette and fonts. Provide templates for documents, presentations, brochures, ads and other key assets.
  8. Prepare your new creative: Deploy your new brand identity into layout per the guidelines, and integrate into all other affected corporate assets as you prepare for launch.
  9. Execute externally: Launch your new visual brand identity into market, using a multimedia approach to reach all audiences. Include promotional items in the mix, as studies have shown that branded giveaways get people excited and aid in brand recall.
  10. Communicate the story of your new identity: Have a thoughtful communication plan in place to tell your story. Ensure your story is meaningful – focused on the outcome rather than the internal drivers – and connects your new brand identity to your future vision. Your customers must understand how this change benefits them.

Redefining your brand’s image (personality):

  1. Conduct a brand audit: Start with key stakeholder interviews to understand and define the brand image you have today, and the brand image you want for the future. Then, survey customers to understand brand awareness and perceptions.
  2. Define your brand differentiation: Outline your core brand differentiators – those attributes that set you apart from your competition and define only your company. Points of differentiation tend to come from within and are closely aligned with culture.
  3. Ensure leadership adoption: Host leadership discussions to garner buy-in and ensure the brand image you want aligns with leadership expectations.
  4. Build your brand strategy: Analyze data and integrate insights to create a brand strategy that outlines the brand vision, market position, differentiating attributes, value proposition and brand promise. Then, synthesize the strategy into a single-page summary, so the core tenets stand out in ways that are easy for your employees (internal audience) to understand and embrace.
  5. Map all brand touch points: Work with key department leaders to help them define and communicate the actions their teams must take to deliver on the brand promise.
  6. Appoint brand champions: Determine and assign internal brand ambassadors to propagate the brand throughout the organization.
  7. Develop a marketing strategy: Create a marketing strategy and tactical plan that communicates the brand promise to the public.
  8. Build a creative strategy: Establish a creative strategy that promotes the brand promise visually.
  9. Execute externally: Develop and deploy integrated, multimedia creative campaigns to bring the brand to life. As with brand identity initiatives, include corporate merchandise as promotional items to foster excitement and brand affinity (both internally and externally).
  10. Monitor progress toward your end goal: Evaluate change in perception and key market indicators to continuously monitor and ensure brand adoption, both internally and externally.

While this is a quick review of the core processes for defining and communicating corporate identity versus your brand’s personality, it is important to understand the outcome of each. Identity is graphical; image is strategy. It is common for organizations to modify both at the same time (and those seeking expert guidance through this process should consider the value of brand scout+). Whichever path you choose, never lose sight of the fact that brand is not a logo. Your brand is what resonates in the hearts and minds of your customers, the sum of their experiences when they interact with your company.

Reader Tip: At Dobies Healthcare Group, we create healthier brands across the healthcare industry – and we view branding as the foundation of deep market planning. Our approach to branding aligns with the Kellogg School of Management. For more information from Kellogg, I recommend reading, “Kellogg on Branding: The Marketing Faculty of The Kellogg School of Management.

About the Author

Julie Amor, Chief Strategy OfficerJulie Amor, MHA, President and Chief Strategy Officer for Dobies Healthcare Group, has 30 years of experience elevating healthcare brands. Share your thoughts with her by tweeting @DobiesGroup, connecting with us on LinkedIn, or by commenting on our Facebook page.